Saturday, 17 August 2019

Loch Lomond and Mull

Day 1 – Home to Tarbet Isle
Start miles  80215
End Miles   80658
Driven             443

Not really a great deal to report for this day, mostly just a day of travel with some concentrated activity right at the end. It started poorly with me sleeping through my alarm, though I still managed to get away on time at 0700.  I’d had to refer back to photos from last year to remember how to get the recumbent in the boot of the landrover.  With all the camping gear and cycling gear in the car as well as a 12V plug in food cooler, it was not a good use of space.  As a result I’ve decided to get hold of an external bike carrier as that would have allowed everything else to fit in the boot with no problems at all.

First stop on the way was at Spaldwick services, which is consistently 4-5p/l cheaper for fuel than anywhere around, and at 35mpg on a steady motorway run, I’ll take what I can get.
Topped up with 65l there and pressed on, with 2-hourly stops for the blood testing and other things like coffee.  The next fuel stop came at Crooklands, just up the road from my parents (they weren’t in, so no stop there), again consistently cheaper fuel. 

By this time my back needed a rest so I nipped into nearby Kendal, put an hour on the parking ticket and went for a wander to also find a spork and Trangia frying pan.  Back refreshed I mounted up again and headed North, via Halfrauds, who as usual were absolutely useless, so no bike carrier.  Took the scenic route out of Kendal via Shap, great road but few opportunities to overtake slower vehicles due to the windiness. 

Next Glasgow, where I found that 5pm on a Monday is sub-optimal for traffic flow, slowing to a crawl for half an hour, but back to making reasonable progress again once I’d left the city centre motorways.

Signs for Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park soon started appearing enticingly, as did the rain, less enticingly.  My last trip to Lock Lomond was also wet. The car park for the campsite was easy enough to find, as was the site itself, well signposted, and then a case of deciding which of the flat spots to set up on.  My first wild camping experience was therefore setting up in the rain, while trying to avoid the midges.  Bivvy was up in 5 minutes, fire was started easy enough, gear dry under cover.  Next, insect repellent, too late, my calves and forearms had already been bitten all over, and the repellent was just limiting further damage.

 The Loch from the Campsite

 You can't see the midges, but they're there

With a good dinner in me I slept comfortably and warm despite the rain going on outside.  Next morning had a repeat of the midge issue, both at the camp site itself and while trying to repack the car.  I drove less than 5 miles down the road to the carpark of a derelict hotel and made some breakfast and coffee there in peace.

 Better, no midges

No dramas, the kit all worked well, I was warm and dry inside even though I needed to change out of my wet shoes from walking through the woods the night before.

Day 2 – Oban and Arrive at Mull

Oban was planned as a day of tourism, refuelling and ferry over to Mull.  Oban Tesco’s being the main game in town, I stopped in to pick up a few supplies to supplement the cooler and top up the fuel tank.

Mileage   80714
Total driven 499

Stuck 2 hours on the parking ticket, with the ability to add more time hour by hour as I wanted to, no need to go overboard here. Did a general wander around the town, stopping in at the distillery for a late birthday present for my dad, and an Oban t-shirt for my son.  Wandered up to an odd-looking structure overlooking the town. A hollow, circular tower, three stories high built in the 1800s by an industrialist as a tribute to his wife and children. I wasn’t quite sure whether it was in response to their deaths or just a case of “look what I got you!”.  Either way it was a great vantage point for the town, a pleasant day after the rain and a nice garden in the middle. 

It also presented snailzilla – just slowly making its way across a window frame.  

 After an ice cream and a bit more wandering I was done with Oban and thinking about whether I could get on an earlier ferry or not.  Not, was the answer – all fully booked that day, but you can always turn up and see if you get on as standby. Bunged an extra hour on the parking, bought some chocolates as presents for people and had a coffee before going to the ferry port.  I couldn’t get on the 1400 sailing, but managed to get onto the 1555. It was a useful wait in the queue though as I had a good chat with the guy behind me who had a bike rack that looked ideal for me.  It was only a short crossing, just under the hour, so plenty of time at the other end to find a camp site. 

 Randon views of Oban

I’d originally planned to camp in the woods again, but the midge experience put me off, so I decided to take a look at Calgary beach as I had time in hand and had heard good things about it.  I took part of my planned route for day 2 of island cycling, which was one of the main B-roads round the coast of the northern lobe of the island. It was a single track road with passing places, very rough and rutted in places, with lots of short sharp ups and downs and hairpins following the coast.  It was OK in the Landrover with some lower gears getting used, but with tourist camper vans and cars as well in the other direction not really understanding the principles of narrow roads, it was not the kind of road I wanted to ride down at all, and very recumbent unfriendly. 

The Calgary camp site was a great choice with spectacular views to the west.  Combine that with a great dinner of fillet steak over an open fire with a side of veg and tomatoes in pesto, smoky Russian Caravan tea to follow. What more could you need?  My little Honey Stove was working very well on solid fuel, if a little fierce as it burned its way through the two hefty bits of wood I’d used under it as a hearth to avoid charring the grass.

 Sunset from Calgary Beach

The campsite was fairly busy, but quiet enough with people respecting the location.  Midges were out in force, but the repellent did its job as did the mossie net on the sleeping bag.

Day 3 Mull 1

Up nice and early to a great sunrise, a bowl of porridge and cloudless sky.  Packed up the tent/bivvy before most people had stirred, and feeling a bit guilty about the noise, fired up the Land Rover and headed over to the other side of Tobermory.  That road was no better for a cyclist on a ‘bent, so I’d be cycling entirely at random today.  My planned starting point was Aros Park, where I’d planned on camping as well, but driving down there it was damp and dark and a likely midge-fest just like Loch Lomond, so decided to head back to Calgary instead.

Relatively speaking, the cycling was a bot of a failure other than the fact that it occurred.  I’d planned about 100km, but ended up doing just 70km.  The main A-road around the island peters out into a single track with passing placers north of Salen.  That in itself was not a problem, but the heavy tourist traffic, tour buses and HGVs in those conditions with some very windy and short, sharp up and downs were, as the traffic did not seem to understand the trickiness of trying to get going again uphill on a bike, and seemed to resent waiting until I found a flat-enough pull-in.  At one point I think I had three tour busses and half a dozen cars behind me.  Basically not the funnest cycling I’ve done, though there were a few cycle tourists on uprights around.  I even saw one family, mostly on MTBs apart from the father on a Brommie – not sure how many gears he had, but I think he’d have had an interesting time.

Finished by lunchtime and cooked up an excellent lunch of eggs, mushrooms and smoked duck in the car park while I was changing.  Nobody else around at all.  After a bit of a wander and some photographs in the park there, I headed for Tobermory, which took all of 90 mins and some severe damage to the wallet with gifts for people. 

 Aros Park

Apart from the general tourist TQT, there’s not really much there.  Other than the distillery and the setting, it’s just another small town really.

 Tobermory Town

 And a freindly native

So back to Calgary Beach I headed, knocked up a camp in 10 mins again, close to the car and not far from the previous night but a slightly better set up with a good fire pit in front of the tent.  First things first, grab a bar of soap and head for a wash.  The burn turned out to be too shallow, so I ended up washing the sweat of the ride off in the sea, my tired muscles also welcoming the coolness. 
Tomorrow was another planned ride on Mull, but a) it’s not a nice place to cycle and b) left hip and lower right back were a bit sore.  Conclusion, pack up maybe do a bit of tourism and head to Islay a day early if possible.  B&B is booked from the day after, but I can always camp for a night there instead of the planned camp on the Mull of Kintyre.

Day 4 Mull Day 2 and Travel (in Hope)
Tourism complete by 10:30, perhaps I’m not as good a tourist as I used to be.  Some good photos taken by the side of the road from Calgary to Craignure where the ferry port is located. I was too late to get onto the 11am ferry as a standby, so had a very good coffee at Arlenes just over the road.  I was now at the front of the standby queue and waiting with fingers crossed for the next ferry, listening to the radio and re-reading Catch-22.  

 Derelict Boats, Mull 
Seals, Mull
On the way to the ferry port I’d driven some of the roads I had planned to ride, only confirming my decision not to ride today. Some of the roads were barely the width of my car.  Perhaps I’m a bit over ambitious, or perhaps its just the long, slow recovery of my back and hips, but I’m not feeling the love for the bike in the same way as I was last year.
Revised plan for today was now to try and get to Islay if possible. 
Mull-Oban ferries at 12:40, 13:30, 15:2
Refuel at Oban Tesco’s again, about an hours drive to Kennacraig and then see what happens, ferries there are 15:30 and 18:00.
Squoze onto the 12:40, mad a mad dash to Kennacraig behind slow traffic on slow roads, arriving at 15:00. Thought I had no chance, but two HGVs and a bus were no-shows, and they managed to get me on, tucked in right at the back, sharing a ferry with a combine harvester for the first time I can remember. Lots of barley to harvest for the Islay distilleries.
A quick look on google maps on the ferry and a great view on approach and I found a superb campsite just outside Port Ellen.  Very quiet indeed, and sounds like my timing had been perfect, as one guy there said my spot had been full of small tents the night before.  Windy, so set up in a small hollow out of the wind, great view of the bay, lighthouse and the yacht that anchored as I was setting up. Somebody had dug an excellent firepit for me, and left a good stock of wood, although it seemed slightly green.  NO worries though as I had plenty of good dry stuff of my own to get it going with the size-reduced other stuff around it to dry until I was ready to use it.  I managed to keep it going well all night until bedtime.
Best of all – NO midges and an excellent nights sleep. Apart from that first night at Loch Lomond, I’d been very lucky with no rain at all.

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